Community Spotlight - Oliver Perretta, An insight into designing a better world
Source: Oliver Perretta
I really had to learn about inclusion and universal design when I worked with Eone. I saw there are so many different people who need different kinds of solutions.
Oliver Perretta, An insight into designing a better world
Over the last two years, we’ve been getting to know Oliver, a talented designer who got involved in a competition we ran to “design your own Eone”. His submission explored the question of whether we could make a timepiece from recycled ocean plastic. We loved his design and were thrilled when Oliver kindly created a stunning visualization of his design for Earth Day 2021. Oliver went on to create the beautiful Bradley Mesh Gold, for World Bee Day and a stunning, thought-provoking design in celebration of World Ocean Day. We know and love Oliver’s work and thought it was time to find out more about what he does.
When I caught up with Oliver recently, we started by talking about what industrial design really means. He explained that industrial design was born from humans’ desire to create tools to get a job done, long before there was a name for it. Modern industrial design terminology came about with the industrial revolution and the age of manufacturing. The role of the designer has never stopped evolving. It started with the need to create items that simply serve a purpose. Then later, the world needed designs that could be manufactured and were aesthetically pleasing. More recently, design needs have moved from the physical, to the digital space. Through history, and into the future, one thing remains constant. Industrial design will always be about solving problems. Oliver explained,
“My job is to design products that people use on a day-to-day basis, which are appealing, and that solve a problem for the user. At the core of industrial design is problem solving and that’s what I love to do.”
We loved this recent example of Oliver’s work that demonstrated the problem solving element of design. Early on in the pandemic, Oliver, unable to go out and exercise as usual, designed a compact bench with a minimal look which would fit seamlessly with the aesthetic of many homes. The real beauty though, is found within. The bench also houses gym equipment suitable for smaller spaces and can be cleverly hidden inside the bench when not in use.
Source: Oliver Perretta
What a designer does
Now, back in the office, Oliver works at FSW, a UK-based design studio. The small team of designers use their expertise to help clients work through ideas and problems, to create solutions in the form of engaging products that work.
The first step is to understand his clients’ goals and what they want their product to achieve. Then, Oliver can begin to figure out how he, as a designer can help. Regardless of the scale or nature of the problem, he ensures each design functions as it should, is attractive, and solves the problem it’s designed to.
From physical to digital
Oliver described a shift in industrial design, into the digital space. As many aspects of daily life now take place online, there’s a need for creative thinking to build solutions to problems in the digital space too.
“It’s interesting, the term ‘product design’ used to be about designing physical items, but now it really means designing digital products like apps and software. It means the world of industrial design is now full of new and different avenues with their own problems that designers have to be prepared to take on and learn about.”
Oliver explained why he thinks so many industrial designers are taking the digital route.
“You see so many UX [user experience] design positions in the job market now. Nowadays, ‘UX’ often relates to digital products, but UX is a term and a skill that industrial designers have been brought up with, it’s pretty much the core of industrial design. It’s about solving problems for the user and making things easier to use, as well as making the experience more enjoyable. Whilst there isn’t really a set avenue into UX, industrial designers have a good set of skills to go into that role because of their creative problem solving background.”
A future of better design?
I was interested to find out how industrial design might change in the future and Oliver told me about his vision of how things could be. Reflecting on the designs he has produced for Eone, Oliver explained how they opened up possibilities in his mind.
“Working with Eone really opened up my eyes to how many areas of design there are. I really had to learn about inclusion and universal design when I worked with Eone. I saw there are so many different people who need different kinds of solutions.”
He explained how better design, or simply good design, would meet the needs of a range of people.
Make good choices, desirable
Oliver described the role he feels design has to play in building a better future and how the industry leaders have demonstrated how design can start to make a better world. He believes that for people to make the responsible choice, designers need to make that choice, an attractive one.
“It’s about making sustainable objects beautiful. Like Eone is about making beautiful objects that everyone can wear. Just because something is sustainable or inclusive it doesn’t mean it has to look or be a certain way. For example, the electric car was quite ‘uncool’ for a long time, until Tesla came about and made it desirable. That’s the power of industrial design. To make something that’s good for the planet, also desirable so people are willing to adopt it.”
Source: Microsoft Xbox
In a way, I think the coined term ‘disability’ is a result of bad design practice.
‘Design out’ disability
Oliver explained the idea of good design being an equalizer for those with disabilities.
“If we design something well, people will be able to use it easily, whoever they are. If we design things that everyone can use and everyone can interact with, there’s no longer any disability. We can, effectively ‘design out’ disability. In a way, I think the coined term ‘disability’ is a result of bad design practice. Microsoft’s recent launch of accessible hardware just goes to show that if you design for a range of abilities, there’s no such thing as a disability, is there?”
With technology giants like Microsoft leading the way, it’s likely that the industry will sit up and take notice. Oliver hopes that designers in every field will see the need for inclusive design in the future. But for those who don’t have the resources and influence of the big names, how do they make this shift?
Better design starts with diversity
Although it is changing slowly, those in the industrial design profession are predominately white, male and from a similar social background. Oliver would like to see a more diverse generation of designers who can bring their unique experiences and ways of thinking to the industry in order to create more innovative solutions.
Recently, Oliver has been happy to see a gradual shift happening. “As designers, we often work for a particular type of agency with a certain type of client who expect a certain type of solution. But now there are a small number of consultancies who are much more open to bringing in different types of projects, like sustainable design and inclusive design projects.”
I was interested to hear about some designers who, in Oliver’s opinion, had got it right. He was excited to tell me about a designer he admires, Jo Barnard, founder and Creative Director of London-based design consultancy, Morrama.
“It’s one of the few female-led industrial design consultancies in the UK that I know of. That just shows you the level of diversity we’re working with in design at the moment. Morrama opens their doors to a lot of startups, tackling projects and designs that other consultancies might shy away from.”
Oliver loves how the Morrama team of designers is a 50/50 gender split, and in his opinion, they’re one of the most innovative consultancies around. Above all, Morrama’s values are centered around ‘good design’, (which we also talk about a lot at Eone). Morrama published ’10 Design Principles for a Better World” which talks about good design as inclusive, beautiful and people and planet centered. These values will sound familiar to our Eone community.
So, what needs to happen so that more consultancies like Morrama can thrive?
“I would like to see more consultancies make a conscious effort to select talent from different areas. The aim is to have a design team that’s diverse, but also talented. They all need to have that ability as well as their diverse experience,” Oliver explained.
“To get that talent, we need to look at what happens in schools. There are maybe a few girls in the class, but design and technology is still seen as a boyish thing. Maybe calling a subject ‘resistant materials or ‘woodwork’ tends to get a bunch of guys signing up. Either way, it’s mainly boys who choose these subjects and eventually funnel into doing industrial design at university. I’ve heard that they’re considering renaming the syllabus along the lines of ‘future thinking’ or ‘innovation design’ which is going to have wider appeal. If you can get people interested in ‘design thinking’, focusing on sustainability and inclusivity at school, we’ll get a lot more creativity in the people applying for industrial design courses, which means a much wider talent pool for the industry to pull from.
The evolution of design
With all the changes set to help at the grassroots level, it seems hopeful that the design industry is in for a future generation of designers that may have that diversity and creativity that Oliver craves. However, he explained it’s not just about having the talent, it’s also about industry leaders being open to the changes that means for the industry.
“The industry looks very different now, compared with twenty years ago, and in twenty years from now, it will look different again, because their focus will be even more on these topics we’ve been talking about. And I think that is hopeful. It’s about changes at the bottom, but it’s also important the people at the top recognize these changes need to occur. Once leaders realize these changes need to happen or we get people who believe in these issues at a senior level, we can open those doors. And I do think that’s starting to happen now.”
It sounds like we can look forward to a whole new phase of design in coming years, that will hopefully, shape a better, more sustainable, more inclusive future. Thank you to Oliver for his insights on the future of industrial design and we look forward to seeing his designs of the future!
Source: Oliver Perretta
We of course, had to ask Oliver the question we pose to all Community Spotlight guests. What is inclusion to you?
Inclusion is being aware that there’s more to things than your own views and your own style of thinking and being open to the fact that there are different ways to approach and solve a problem. It’s also appreciating there’s a need to include different people in the process. It begins with people being aware there’s a problem and sometimes that just requires some exposure and understanding.”